What is Brain Freeze? Best 101 Useful Guide

It’s a hot summer day, and you take a big gulp of ice cream, only to feel a sharp pain in your head. And just as suddenly as the pain arrives, it departs.

This is what is brain freeze, and you most probably would have experienced it at some point in your life.

This phenomenon will be discussed in-depth in this article, but before we get into the question of what is brain freeze, let us clear up common confusion.

Brain Freeze or Ice Cream Headache or Cold Stimulus Headache?

You may have heard these terms before and are perplexed by them. However, do not get confused as an ice-cream headache or a cold stimulus headache are both names for a brain freeze. A brain freeze can also be referred to as a cold-induced headache.

So, now that we’ve established the synonyms for a brain freeze 1let’s get started!

What is Brain Freeze?

Brain freeze is a brief, intense pain in the front portion of your head. It causes some cerebrovascular changes. It happens when you consume or breathe something extremely cold such as eating ice creams or breathing freezing air.

The scientific term for brain freeze is sphenopalatine ganglion neuralgia, but it is also known as ice cream headaches, cold stimulus headaches, and cold-induced headaches2, as mentioned above.

You must have now gotten a faint idea of what is brain freeze after reading this. To fully grasp this, let us delve into the various aspects involved, including everything from symptoms to treatment!


brain freeze
by Jereme Rauckman/Flickr

The primary symptom of brain freeze is the sudden onset of sharp pain in the front portion of the head. The intensity of the pain can range from a mild headache to throbbing pain.

The discomfort usually lasts for a few seconds but can go up to a minute or two depending on how much cold food or air you consumed or how quickly you consumed it.

It is also important to understand that the pain you feel during a brain freeze is ‘referred pain,’ which means that the location where you feel pain is not the location where the pain signal originated. This phenomenon occurs due to the trigeminal nerve, which is believed to get activated during an episode of brain freeze.


When something extremely cold comes into contact with the upper palate, which is the roof of the mouth, it causes brain freeze.

This happens because when your body detects sudden, extreme cold in your mouth or throat, it attempts to respond by warming up. Blood vessels in the head dilate to increase blood flow into the area for warmth. The sudden change in blood vessel size causes pain.

It usually occurs when the weather is extremely hot, and you consume something very cold very quickly.

ice creams
by chandlervid85/UnlimPhotos

Some of the things that are known to trigger a brain freeze or an ice cream headache include-

  • ice creams
  • ice cubes
  • ice pops
  • ice-cold water
  • other very cold food
  • cold air


The only way to treat a brain freeze is to get your body’s core temperature back to normal, especially your mouth and throat.

This can be done by-

  • stop eating the cold food
  • drinking warm water
  • move out of the cold area
  • pressing your thumb or tongue against the roof of your mouth for the purpose of transferring warmth

Medical Attention

A brain freeze does not necessitate medical attention. However, consult your doctor if you experience frequent headaches that last a long time.


It is always said that prevention is better than cure! So here is how you can prevent brain freeze.

Avoiding sudden exposure to cold foods, drinks or air is the best and only way to prevent brain freeze as this would further avoid sudden and extreme changes in the temperature of your mouth and head3.

Now we know that this could be quite difficult, especially in the blazing summer, but try avoiding the following things-

  • cold drink
  • ice cream
  • ice water
  • freezing air

You can also try doing the following to avoid brain freeze-

  • Slowly consume cold foods and drinks
  • Use a scarf or a face mask as a barrier against cold air.

This concludes our discussion of ‘what is brain freeze,’ but we know you have a few more questions. Not to worry, we’re here to help you find the answers you’re looking for!

So, does a sharp, intense pain in the front part of your head sound familiar to you? We know it does.

A migraine, for example, has the same effect. So, what distinguishes a brain freeze from a headache? Let’s wait and see!

How are Brain Freeze Headaches Different from Other Headaches?

by BDS/UnlimPhotos

A brain freeze headache is distinct from other types of headaches4, such as migraine or cluster headaches in the sense that it is a short-term headache, which usually lasts for a few seconds or minutes.

Also, unlike other headaches, there are no other symptoms associated with a brain freeze. For example, migraine can cause nausea and make it difficult to tolerate bright lights or loud noises. However, you are unlikely to experience any additional symptoms during a brain freeze.5

Now before we wrap up this article, there is one more question we need to answer.

Who is Prone to Brain Freeze Headaches?

by lunamarina/UnlimPhotos

While anyone can suffer from a brain freeze, children are especially vulnerable because it is difficult for them to resist a cold treat on a hot summer day. They may also have not yet learned to eat slowly, especially for tasty chilled food, resulting in more ice cream headaches.

Furthermore, research suggests that migraine sufferers are more prone to brain freeze headaches.

Brain Freeze in Migraine Sufferers

According to research, migraine sufferers are more likely to experience brain freeze. If you have migraines, you may be more prone to a brain freeze, or your headache may be worse than someone who does not have migraines.

Fortunately, brain freezes are not known to cause migraines. As a result, the throbbing pain would subside in seconds, and you would not have to endure a long headache like a migraine.

With this, we finally come to an end to this article.

We hope that this article helped you understand what is brain freeze better and remember, as painful as a brain freeze can be, it is not serious and usually resolves on its own.

Wishing you a healthy day ahead!

  1. Orthaber, Sara, and Simon Zupan. “Translators as Digital Nomads: Constructing Professional Identity Online.” Mobilität-Wirtschaft-Kommunikation: Wie die Mobilität von Unternehmen, Personen, Kapital, Waren und Dienstleistungen die Kommunikation verändert. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, 2021. 333-346. ↩︎
  2. Mattsson, Peter. “Headache caused by drinking cold water is common and related to active migraine.” Cephalalgia 21.3 (2001): 230-235. ↩︎
  3. Shinozaki, T., et al. “Spatial and temporal brain responses to noxious heat thermal stimuli in burning mouth syndrome.” Journal of dental research 95.10 (2016): 1138-1146. ↩︎
  4. Wang, Shuu-Jiun. “Epidemiology of migraine and other types of headache in Asia.” Current neurology and neuroscience reports 3.2 (2003): 104-108. ↩︎
  5. Lugovskaya, Nelya, and David R. Vinson. “Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation and brain freeze: a case of recurrent co-incident precipitation from a frozen beverage.” The American Journal of Case Reports 17 (2016): 23. ↩︎

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Ananya Sreen

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